Part 7 out of 9
She was dressed in a muslin tea-gown over shot green silk, and was
conscious of her triviality as she stood before the tall, spare
ecclesiastic. She admired the calm, refined beauty of his face, the
bright, dark eyes and the thin features, steadfast and aloof as some
saints she had seen in pictures.
"I called to see your father, Miss Innes, but he is not in, and hearing
that you were, I asked to see you. For my business is really with you,
that is, if you can spare the time?"
"Won't you sit down, Monsignor?"
"I have come, Miss Innes, to remind you of a promise that you once made
The colour returned to her cheeks, and a smile to her lips. But she did
not remember, and was slightly embarrassed.
"Did I make you a promise?"
"Have you forgotten my speaking to you about some poor sisters who might
be driven from their convent if they failed to pay the interest on a
"Ah, yes, on the night of the concert."
"They have paid the interest and kept a roof over their heads, but in
doing so they have exhausted their resources; and not to put too fine a
point upon it, I am afraid they often have not enough to eat. Something
must be done for them. I thought that a concert would be the quickest
way of getting them some money."
"You want me to sing?"
"It really would be a charitable action."
"I shall be delighted to sing for them. Where is this convent?"
"My old convent! The Passionist Sisters!"
"Your old convent?"
"Yes," Evelyn replied, the colour rising slightly to her cheeks. "I made
a retreat there, long ago, before I went on the stage."
She was grieved to hear that the Reverend Mother she had known was dead;
she had died two years ago, and Mother Margaret was dead too. Monsignor
could tell her nothing about Sister Bonaventure. Mother Philippa was the
sub-prioress; and in the midst of her questions he explained how the
financial difficulties had arisen. They were, he said, the result of the
imprudences of the late Reverend Mother, one of the best and holiest of
women, but unfortunately not endowed with sufficient business foresight.
He was quite prepared to admit that the little wooden chapel which had
preceded the present chapel was inadequate, and that she was justified
in building another, but not in expending nearly one thousand pounds in
stained glass. The new chapel had cost ten thousand pounds, and the
interest of this money had to be paid. There were other debts--
"But there is no reason why I should weary you with an exact statement."
"But you do not weary me, Monsignor; I am, on the contrary, deeply
"The convent owes a great deal to the late Reverend Mother, and the last
thing I wish to express is disapproval. We do not know the
circumstances, and must not judge her; we know that she acted for the
best. No doubt she is now praying to God to secure the safety of her
Evelyn sat watching him, fascinated by the clear, peremptory,
ecclesiastical dignity which he represented. If he had a singing voice,
she said to herself, it would be a tenor. He had allowed the
conversation to wander from the convent to the concert; and they were
soon talking of their musical preferences. There was an impersonal
tenderness, a spiritual solicitude in his voice which enchained her; no
single idea held her, but wave after wave of sensation passed,
transforming and dissolving, changeable as a cloud. Human life demands
hope, and the priest is a symbol of hope; there is always a moment when
the religionist doubts, and there is also a moment when the atheist
says, "Who knows, perhaps." And this man had done what she had not been
able to do: he had put aside the paltry pleasures of the world, he
placed his faith in things beyond the world, pleasures which perchance
were not paltry. An entirely sensual life was a terrible oppression;
hers often weighed upon her like a nightmare; to be happy one must have
an ideal and strive to live up to it. Her mind flickered and sank,
changing rapidly as an evening sky, never coming to anything distinct
enough to be called a thought. She desired to hear him speak, she felt
that she must speak to him about religion; she wanted to know if he were
sure, and how he had arrived at his certitudes.... She wanted to talk to
him about life, death and immortality. She had tried to lead the
conversation into a religious discussion, but he seemed to avoid it, and
just as she was about to put a definite question, Ulick came into the
room. He stood crushing his grey felt hat between his hands, a somewhat
curious figure, and she watched him talking to Monsignor, thinking of
the difference of vision. As Ulick said, everything was in that. Men
were divided by the difference of their visions. She was curious to know
how the dogmatic and ritualistic vision of Monsignor affected Ulick, and
when the prelate left she asked him.
He was as ingenuous and unexpected on this subject as he was on all
subjects. If the antique priest, he said, clothed himself in purple, it
was to produce an exaltation in himself which would bring him closer to
the idea, which would render him, as it were, accessible to it. But the
vestments of the modern priest had lost their original meaning, they
were mere parade. This explanation was very like Ulick; she smiled, and
was interested, but her interest was passing and superficial. The advent
of the priest had moved her in the depths of her being, and her mind was
thick with lees of ancient sentiment, and wrecks of belief had floated
up and hung in mid memory. She knew that the beauty of the ritual, the
eternal psalms, the divine sacrifice, the very ring of the bell, the
antiquity of the language, lifted her out of herself, and into a higher,
a more intense ecstasy than the low medium of this world's desires. And
if she did not believe that the bread and wine were the true body and
blood of God, she still believed in the real Presence. She was aware of
it as she might be of the presence of someone in the room, though he
might be hidden from her eyes. Though the bread and wine might not be
the body and blood of Christ, still the act of consecration did seem to
her to call down the spirit of God, and it had seemed to her to inhabit
the church at the moment of consecration. It might not be true to Owen,
nor yet to Ulick, but it was true to her--it was a difference of
vision.... She sat buried in herself. Then she walked to the window
confused and absorbed, with something of the dread of a woman who finds
herself suddenly with child. When Ulick came to her she did not notice
him, and when he asked her to do some music with him she refused, and
when he put his arms about her she drew away sullenly, almost
A few days after she was in Park Lane. She had gone there to pay some
bills, and she was going through them when she was startled by the front
door bell. It was a visitor without doubt. Her thoughts leaped to
Monsignor, and her face lighted up. But he did not know she was at Park
Lane; he would not go there.... It was Owen come up from Bath. What
should she say to him? Good heavens! It was too late to say she was not
at home. He was already on the stairs. And when he entered he divined
that he was not welcome. They sat opposite each other, trying to talk.
Suddenly he besought her not to throw him over.... She had to refuse to
kiss him, and that was convincing, he said. Once a woman was not greedy
for kisses, the end was near. And his questions were to the point, and
irritatingly categorical. Had she ever been unfaithful to him? Did she
love Ulick Dean? Not content with a simple denial, he took her by both
hands, and looking her straight in the face, asked her to give him her
word of honour that Ulick Dean was not her lover, that she had never
kissed him, that she had never even desired to kiss him, that no idea of
love making had ever arisen between them. She pledged her word on every
point, and this was the second time that her _liaison_ with Ulick had
obliged her to lie, deliberately in so many words. Nor did the lying
even end there. He wanted her to stay, to dine with him; she had to
invent excuses--more lies.
She was returning to Dulwich in her carriage, and until she arrived home
her thoughts hankered and gnawed, pestered and terrified her. Never had
she felt so ashamed, so disgusted with herself, and the after taste of
the falsehoods she had told came back into her mouth, and her face grew
dark in the beautiful summer evening. Her brows were knit, and she
resolved that if the occasion happened again, she would tell Owen the
truth. This was no mock determination; on this point she was quite sure
of herself. Looking round she saw the mean streets of Camberwell. She
saw them for a moment, and then she sank back into her reverie.
She was deceiving Owen, she was deceiving her father, she was deceiving
Ulick, she was deceiving Monsignor--he would not have thought of asking
her to sing at the concert if he knew what a life was hers. Nor would
those good women at the convent accept her aid if they knew what kind of
woman she was. And the strange thing was that she did not believe
herself to be a bad woman; at the bottom of her heart she loved truth
and sincerity. She wished to have an ideal and to live up to it, yet she
was doing the very opposite. That was what was so strange, that was what
she did not understand, that was what made her incomprehensible to
herself. She sighed, and at the bottom of her heart there lay an immense
weariness, a weariness of life, of the life she was leading, and she
longed for a life that would coincide with her principles, and she felt
that if she did not change her life, she would do something desperate.
She might kill herself.
It is true that man is a moral animal, but it is not true that there is
but one morality; there are a thousand, the morality of each race is
different, the morality of every individual differs. The origin of each
sect is the desire to affirm certain moral ideas which particularly
appeal to it; every change of faith is determined by the moral
temperament of the individual; we prefer this religion to that religion
because our moral ideas are more implicit in these affirmations than in
The restriction of sexual intercourse is the moral ideal of Western
Europe; it is the one point on which all Christians are agreed; it is
the one point on which they all feel alike. So inherent is the idea of
sexual continence in the Western hemisphere that even those whose
practice does not coincide with their theory rarely impugn the wisdom of
the law which they break; they prefer to plead the weakness of the flesh
as their excuse, and it is with reluctance that they admit that without
an appeal to conscience it would be impossible to prove that it is wrong
for two unmarried people to live together. It is not perceived that the
fact that no material proof can be produced strengthens rather than
weakens the position of the moralist. To do unto others as you would be
done unto, to love your neighbour as yourself, are practical moralities
which may be derived from social necessities, but the abstract
moralities, that sexual intercourse is wrong except between married
people, and that it is wrong to tell a lie, even if the lie be a
perfectly harmless one, exist of themselves. That we cannot bring
abstract moralities into the focus of our understanding is no argument.
As well deny the stars because we cannot understand them. That abstract
moralities impose on us should be a sufficient argument that they cannot
be the futilities that Owen would argue them to be--not them, he only
protested against one.... (She had not thought of that before--Owen was
no more rational than she.) That the idea of chastity should persist in
spite of reason is proof of its truth. For what more valid argument in
favour of a chaste life than that the instinct of chastity abides in us?
After all, what we feel to be true is for us the greatest truth, if not
the only real truth. Ulick was nearer the truth than Owen. He had said,
"A sense which eludes all the other senses and which is not
apprehensible to reason governs the world, all the rest is
circumstantial, ephemeral. Were man stripped one by one of all his
attributes, his intelligence, his knowledge, his industry, as each of
these shunks was broken up and thrown aside, the kernel about which they
had gathered would be a moral sense."
Evelyn remembered that when she had sent Owen away before, he had said,
"Sexual continence at best is not the whole of morality; from your use
of the word one would think that it was." But for her the sexual
conscience was the entire conscience--she had no temptation to steal.
There was lying, but she was never tempted to tell lies except for one
reason; she could not think of herself telling a lie for any other. To
her the sexual sin included all the others. She turned her head aside,
for the bitterness of her conscience was unendurable, and she vowed
that, whatever happened, she would speak the truth if Owen questioned
her again. She could never bring herself to tell such horrible
These revulsions of feeling alternated with remembrances of Owen's
tenderness; fugitive sensations of him tingled in her veins, and
ill-disposed her to Ulick. She spoke little, and sat with averted eyes.
When he asked her if he should come to her room, she answered him
peremptorily; and he heard her lock her door with a determined hand.
As she lay in bed, conscious of the inextricable tangle of her life, it
was knotting so closely and rapidly that her present double life could
not endure much longer, the odious taste of the lies she had told that
afternoon rose again to her lips, and, as if to quench the bitterness,
she vowed that she would tell Owen the truth ... if he asked her. If he
did not ask her she would have to bear the burden of her lies. She tried
not to wish that he might ask her. Then questions sallied from every
side. She could not marry Owen without telling him about Ulick. She
could not marry Ulick without telling him that she had been unfaithful
to him with Owen. Should she send away Owen and marry Ulick, or would it
be better to send away Ulick and marry Owen--if he would marry her after
he had heard her confession? It was unendurable to have to tell lies all
day long--yes, all day long--of one sort or another. She ought to send
them both away.... But could she remain on the stage without a lover?
Could she go to Bayreuth by herself? Could she give up the stage? And
She awoke in a different mood--at least, it seemed to her that her mood
was different. She was not thinking of Owen, of the lies she had told
him; and she could talk gaily with Ulick about the concert she had
promised to sing at. She seemed inclined to take the whole
responsibility of this concert upon her own shoulders. As Ulick said, it
was impossible for her to take a small part in any concert.
They were driving in Richmond Park, not far from the convent. The
autumn-tinted landscape, the vicissitudes of the woods, and the
plaintive air brought a tender yearning into her mood, and she
contrasted the lives of those poor, holy women with her own life. Ulick
did not intrude himself; he sat silent by her, and she thought of
Monsignor. Sometimes he was no more than a little shadow in the
background of her mind; but he was never wholly absent, and that day all
matters were unconsciously referred to him. She was curious to know what
his opinions were of the stage; and as they returned home in the short,
luminous autumn evening, she seemed to discover suddenly the fact that
she was no longer as much interested in the stage as she used to be. She
even thought that she would not greatly care if she never sang on the
stage again. Last night she had put the thought aside as if it were
madness, to-day it seemed almost natural. Thinking of the poor sisters
who lived in prayer and poverty on the edge of the common, she
remembered that her life was given up to the portrayal of sensual
emotion on the stage. She remembered the fierce egotism of the stage--an
egotism which pursued her into every corner of her life. Compared with
the lives of the poor sisters who had renounced all that was base in
them, her life was very base indeed. In her stage life she was an agent
of the sensual passion, not only with her voice, but with her arms, her
neck and hair, and every expression of her face, and it was the craving
of the music that had thrown her into Ulick's arms. If it had subjugated
her, how much more would it subjugate and hold within its sensual
persuasion the ignorant listener--the listener who would perceive in the
music nothing but its sensuality. Why had the Church not placed stage
life under the ban of mortal sin? It would have done so if it knew what
stage life was, and must always be. She then wondered what Monsignor
thought of the stage, and from the moment her curiosity was engaged on
this point it did not cease to trouble her till it brought her to the
door of the presbytery. The ostensible object of her visit was to make
certain proposals to Monsignor regarding the music she was to sing at
She was shown into a small room; its one window was so high up on the
wall that the light was dim in the room, though outside there was
brilliant sunshine. The sadness of the little room struck cold upon her,
and she noticed the little space of floor covered with cocoa-nut
matting, and how it grated under the feet. The furniture was a polished
oak table, with six chairs to match. A pious print hung on each wall.
One was St. Monica and St. Augustine, and the rapt expression of their
faces reminded her that she might be bartering a divine inheritance for
a coarse pleasure that left but regret in the heart. And it was in such
heartsick humour that Monsignor found her. He seemed to assume that she
needed his help, and the tender solicitude with which he wished to come
to her aid was in itself a consolation. She was already an incipient
penitent as she told him of her project to bring an orchestra at her own
expense to Wimbledon, and give the forest murmurs with the Bird Song
from "Siegfried." Monsignor left everything to her; he placed himself
unreservedly in her hands. After a long silence she pushed a cheque for
fifty pounds across the table, begging him not to mention the name of
the giver. She was singing for them, that was sufficient obligation. He
approved of her delicacy of feeling, thanked her for her generosity,
and the business of the interview seemed ended.
"I'm so much obliged to you, Monsignor Mostyn, for having come to me,
for having given me an opportunity of doing some good with my money.
Hitherto, I'm ashamed to say, I've spent it all on myself. It has often
seemed to me intolerably selfish, and I often felt that I must do
something, only I did not know what to do."
Then, feeling that she must take him into her confidence, she asked him
what proportion of our income we should devote to charity. He said it
was impossible to fix a precise sum, but he knew many deserving cases,
and offered to advise her in the distribution of whatever money she
might decide to spend in charity. Suddenly his manner changed; he even
seemed to wish her to stay, and the conversation turned back to music.
The conversation was mundane as possible, and it was only now and then,
by some slight allusion to the Church, that he reminded Evelyn, and
perchance himself, that the essential must be distinguished from the
Again and again the temptation rose up, it seemed to look out from her
very eyes, and she was so conscious of this irresistible desire to speak
to him of herself that she no longer heard him, and hardly saw the blank
wall with the pious print upon it.
"I have not told you, Monsignor," she said at last, "that I am leaving
She knew that he must ask her what had induced her to think of taking so
important a step, and then she would have an opportunity of asking his
opinion of the stage. Of course neither Ulick's nor Owen's name would be
"As at present constituted, the stage is a dangerous influence. Some
women no doubt are capable of resisting evil even when surrounded by
evil. Even so they set a bad example, for the very knowledge of their
virtue tempts others less sure of themselves to engage in the same life,
and these weak ones fall. The virtuous actress is like a false light,
which instead of warning vessels from the rocks entices them to their
He did not indite the Oberammergau Passion Play, but he could not accept
"Parsifal." He had heard Catholics aver, while approving of the
performance of "Parsifal," that they would not wish to see the piece
performed out of Bayreuth. But he failed to understand this point of
view altogether. It seemed to assume that a parody of the Mass was
unobjectionable at Bayreuth, though not elsewhere. If there was no
parody of the Mass, why should they say that they would not like to see
the piece performed elsewhere? He had read the book and knew the music,
and could not understand how a great work of art could contain scenes
from real life. Whether these be religious ceremonies or social
functions, the artistic sin is the same. He asked Evelyn why she was
smiling, and she told him that it was because the only two whom she had
heard disapprove of "Parsifal" were Monsignor Mostyn and Ulick Dean. It
seemed strange that two such extremes should agree regarding the
profligacy of "Parsifal." Monsignor was interested for a moment in Ulick
Dean's views, and then he said--
"But was it with the intention of consulting me, Miss Innes, that you
introduced the subject? I hear that you are going to play the principal
part next year--Kundry."
"Nothing is settled. As I told you just now, Monsignor, I am thinking of
leaving the stage, and your opinions concerning it do not encourage me
to remain an actress."
"My dear child, you have had the good fortune to be brought up in holy
Church. You have, I hope, constant recourse to the sacraments. You have
confided the difficulties of your stage life to your confessor. How does
he advise you?"
Raising her eyes, Evelyn said in a sinking voice--
"Even if one has doubts about the whole doctrine of the Church, it is
still possible to wish to lead a good life. Don't you think so,
"There are many Protestants who lead excellent lives. But I have always
noticed that when a Catholic begins to question the doctrine of the
Church, his or her doubts were preceded by a desire to lead an irregular
And in the silence Evelyn became aware of the afternoon sun shining
through the window above their heads, enlivening the dark parlour. It
seemed strange to sit discussing such subjects in the sunshine. The ray
that fell through the window lighted up the priest's thin face till it
seemed like one of the wood carvings she had seen in Germany. When he
resumed the conversation it was to lead her to speak of herself and the
reasons which had suggested an abandonment of her stage career. The
tender, impersonal kindness of the priest drew her out of herself, and
she told him how she had begun to perceive that the stage had ceased to
interest her as it had once done; she spoke of vulgarity and parade, yet
that was not quite what she meant; it had come to seem to her like so
much waste, as if she were wasting her time in doing things that did not
matter, like grown people would feel if they were asked to pass the
afternoon playing with dolls. Shrugging her shoulders hysterically, she
said she could not explain.
"But have you an idea of what life you wish to lead?"
"No, I don't think I have; I only know that I am not happy in my present
"I believe you see a good deal of Sir Owen Asher. He helped you, did he
not, in your musical education?"
"Yes," she answered under her breath. "He is an intimate friend." In a
moment of unexpected courage, she said, "Do you know him, Monsignor?"
"I have heard a good deal about him, and nothing, I regret to say, to
his credit. He is, I believe, an avowed atheist, and does not hesitate
to declare his unbelief in every society, and to make open boast of an
immoral life. He has read and tried to understand a little more than the
people with whom he associates. I suppose the doubts you entertain
regarding the doctrine of the Church are the result of his teaching?"
With a little pathetic air, Evelyn admitted that Owen had used every
possible argument to destroy her faith. She had read Huxley, Darwin, and
a little Herbert Spencer.
"Herbert Spencer! Miserable collections of trivial facts, bearing upon
nothing. Of what value, I ask, can it be to suffering humanity to know
that such and such a fact has been observed and described? Then the
general law! rubbish, ridiculous rubbish!"
"The scientists fail to see that what we feel matters much more than
what we know."
"True, quite true," he said, turning sharply and looking at her with
admiration. Then, recollecting himself, he said, "But God does not exist
because we feel He exists. He exists not through us, but through
Himself, from all time and through all eternity. To feel is better than
to observe, to pray is better than to inquire, but indiscriminate
abandonment to our feelings would lead us to give credence to every
superstition. You have, I perceive, escaped from the rank materialism of
Sir Owen's teaching, but whither are you drifting, my dear child? You
must return to the Church; without the Church, we are as vessels without
a rudder or compass."
He walked up and down the room as though debating with himself. Evelyn
held her breath, wondering what new turn the conversation would take.
Suddenly she lost her courage, and overcome with fear got up to go, and
Monsignor, considering that enough had been said, did not attempt to
detain her. But as he bade her good-bye at the door, his keen eye fixed
upon her, he added, "Remember, I do not admit your difficulties to be
intellectual ones. When you come to realise that for yourself, I shall
be glad to do all in my power to help you. God bless you, my child!"
If only she could put the whole thing aside--refuse to bother her head
any more, or else believe blindly what she was told. She hated wobbling,
yet she did nothing else. Suddenly she felt that if she were to believe
at all, it must be like Monsignor. The magnetism of his faith thrilled
her, and, in a moment, it had all became real to her. But it was too
late. She could never do all her religion asked. Her whole life would
have to come to pieces; nothing of it would remain, and she entirely
lost heart when she considered in detail the sacrifices she would have
to make. She saw herself at Dulwich with her father, giving singing
lessons, attending the services, and living about St. Joseph's. She saw
herself singing operas in every capital, and always a new lover at her
heels. Both lives were equally impossible to her. As she lay back in her
carriage driving through the lazy summer streets, she almost wished she
had no conscience at all. What was the use of it? She had just enough to
spoil her happiness in wrong-doing, yet not enough to prevent her doing
what deep down in her heart she knew to be wrong.
That evening she wrote a number of letters, and begged a subscription of
every friend--Owen was out of the question and she hesitated whether she
should make use of Ulick. She would have liked to have left him out of
this concert altogether, and it was only because she had no one else
whom she could depend upon that she consented to let him go off in
search of the necessary tenor. But to take him to the concert did not
She dipped her pen in the ink, and then laid it down, overcome by a
sudden and intolerable melancholy. She could have cried, so great was
her weariness with the world, so worthless did her life seem. She had
begged her father's forgiveness; he had forgiven her, but she had not
sent away her lover.... She had told Monsignor that, in consequence of
certain scruples of conscience, she intended to give up the stage, but
she had not told him that she had taken another lover and brought him to
live with her under her father's roof. Whether there was a God and a
hereafter, or merely oblivion, such conduct as hers was surely wrong.
She walked to and fro, and came to a resolution regarding her relations
with Ulick, at all events in her father's house.
Then life seemed perfectly hopeless, and she wished Monsignor had not
come to see her. What could she do to shake off this clammy and
unhealthy depression which hung about her? She might go for a walk, but
where? The perspective of the street recalled the days when she used to
stand at the window wondering if nothing would ever happen to her. She
remembered the moment with singular distinctness when she heard the
voice crying within her? "Will nothing ever happen? Will this go on for
ever?" She remembered the very tree and the very angle of the house!
Dulwich was too familiar; it was like living in a room where there was
nothing but mirrors. Dulwich was one vast mirror of her past life. In
Dulwich she was never living in the present. She could not see Dulwich,
she could only remember it. One walk more in that ornamental park! She
knew it too well! And the picture gallery meant Owen--she would only see
him and hear his remarks. Her thoughts reverted to his proposal of
marriage and her acceptance. Not for the whole world! Why, she did not
know. He had been very good to her. Her ingratitude shocked her. She
shrugged her shoulders hysterically; she could not help it--that was how
But Ulick? Should she marry him and accept the Gods? That would settle
But a sense of humour solves nothing, and at that moment the servant
brought her a small brown paper parcel. It looked like a book. It was a
book. She opened it. Monsignor had sent her a book. As she turned the
leaves she remembered the parcels of books from Owen which she used to
open in the same room, sitting in the same chair. _Sin and its
Consequences_! She began reading it. On one point she was sure, that sin
did exist.... If we felt certain things to be wrong, they were wrong; at
least they were wrong for those who thought them wrong, and she had
never been able to feel that it was right to live with a man to whom she
was not married. Everyone had a moral code. Owen would not cheat at
cards, and he thought it mean to tell lies--a very poor code it was, but
still he acted up to it. She did not know how Ulick felt on such
matters; his beliefs, though numerous and picturesque, supplied no moral
code, and she could not live on symbols, though perhaps they were better
than Owen's theories. Her mistake from the beginning was in trying to
acquire a code of morals which did not coincide with her feelings. But
the teaching in this book did coincide with her feelings. Could she
follow it? That was the point. Could she live without a lover? Owen
thought not. She laughed and then walked about the room, unable to shake
off a dead weight of melancholy. Though the Church was all wrong, and
there was no God, she was still leading a life which she felt to be
wrong; and if the Church were right, and there was a resurrection, her
soul was lost. She took up the book and read till her fears became so
intense that she could read no more, and she walked up and down the
room, her nerves partially unstrung. In the evening she talked a great
deal and rapidly, apparently not quite aware of what she was saying, or
else her face wore a brooding look; sometimes it awakened a little, and
then her eyes were fixed on Ulick.
The next day was Friday, and as the train service seemed complex and
inconvenient, and as she had not at Dulwich a suitable dress to wear at
the concert, she decided to sleep at Park Lane and drive to Wimbledon in
the afternoon. She left her father, promising to return to him soon, and
she had told Ulick that she thought it better he should return by train.
She saw that he had noticed the book in her hand, and she knew that he
understood her plea that she did not wish to be seen driving with him to
mean that she was going to call on Monsignor on her way home. She had
thought of calling at St. Joseph's, but, unable to think of a
sufficient excuse for the visit, had abandoned the idea. She knew the
time was not opportune. Monsignor would be hearing confessions. But as
the carriage turned out of Camberwell, she remembered that it would be
polite to thank him for the book, and leaning forward she told the
coachman to drive to St. Joseph's.... So after all she was going
there.... Ulick was right.
The attendant told her that Monsignor was hearing confessions, and would
not be free for another half-hour. She drew a breath of relief, for this
second visit had frightened her. The attendant asked her if she would
wait. She thought she would like to wait in church. She desired its
collectedness, its peace. But the thought of Monsignor's confessional
frightened her, and she thanked the attendant hurriedly, and went slowly
to her carriage.
When Ulick came in that evening she was seated on the corner of the sofa
near the window. The moon was shining on the breathless park, and a moth
whirled between the still flames of the candles which burned on the
piano. He noticed that her mood was subdued and reflective. She liked
him to sit by her, to take her hand and tell her he loved her. She liked
to listen to him, but not to music; nor would she sing that evening, and
his questions as to the cause remained unanswered. Her voice was calm
and even, and seemed to come from far away. There was a tremor in his,
and between whiles they watched and wondered at the flight of the moth.
It seemed attracted equally by darkness and light. It emerged from the
darkness, fluttered round the perilous lights and returned again to its
natural gloom. But the temptation could not be resisted, and it fell
singed on the piano.
"We ought to have quenched those candles," Evelyn said.
"It would have found others," Ulick answered, and he took the maimed
moth on to the balcony and trod it out of its misery. They sat there
under the little green verandah, and in the colour of the clear night
their talk turned on the stars and the Zodiacal signs. Ulick was born
under the sign of Aquarius, and all the important events of his life
began when Aquarius was rising. Pointing to a certain group of stars, he
"The story of Grania is no more than our story, your story, my story,
and the story of Sir Owen Asher, and I had written my poem before I saw
you." Then, as a comment on this fact, he added, "We should be careful
what we write, for what we write will happen. Grania is the beautiful
fortune which we will strive for, which chooses one man to-day and
The idea interested her for a moment, but she was thinking of her
project to find out if, like Owen, he thought that the virtue of
chastity was non-essential in women, or if the other virtues were
dependent upon it. But how to lead the conversation back to this
question she did not for the moment know. At last she said--"You ask me
to love you--but to be my lover you would have to surrender all your
spiritual life, that which is most to you, that which makes your genius.
Do you think it worth it?"
He hesitated, then answered her with some vague reference to destiny,
but she guessed the truth. As free as Owen himself from ethical
scruples, he still felt that we should overcome our sexual nature. She
asked herself why: and she wondered just as Owen wondered when
confronted by her religious conscience. They looked at each other long
and gravely, and he told her of the great seer who had collected in her
own person all the cryptic revelation, all the esoteric lore of the
East. He admitted that she had allowed carnal intercourse to some of her
disciples while forbidding it to others.
"Evidently judging chastity to be in some cases essential to the other
She heard him say that a sect of mystics to which he belonged, or
perhaps it was whose society he frequented, advised the married state
but with this important reservation, that instead of corporal possession
they should endeavour to aid each other to rise to a higher spiritual
plane, anticipating in this life a little the perfect communion of
spirit which awaited them in the next. But such theories did not appeal
to Evelyn. She could only understand the renunciation of the married
state for the sake of closer intimacy with the spiritual life; and she
was more interested when he told her of the cruelties, the macerations
and the abstinences which the Indian seers resorted to, so that the
opacity of the fleshly envelope might be diminished and let the soul
through. In modern, as in the most ancient ages, with the scientist as
with the seer, marvels and prodigies are reached through the subjugation
of the flesh; as life dwindles like a flame that a breath will quench,
the spirit attains its maximum, and the abiding and unchanging life that
lies beyond death waxes till it becomes the real life.
"Is this life, then, not real?"
"If reality means what we understand, could anything be more unreal?"
"Then you do believe in a future state?"
"Yes, I certainly believe in a future state.... So much so that it seems
impossible to believe that life ends utterly with death."
But to Evelyn's surprise, he seemed to doubt the immortality of this
future state, and fell back on the Irish doctrine which holds that after
death you pass to the great plain or land under the sea, or the land
over the sea, or the land of the children of the goddess Dana.
"Even now my destiny is accomplishing."
The true Celt is still a pagan--Christianity has been superimposed. It
is little more than veneer, and in the crises of life the Celt turns to
the ancient belief of his race. But did Ulick really believe in Angus
and Lir and the Great Mother Dana? Perhaps he merely believed that as a
man of genius it was his business to enroll himself in the original
instincts and traditions of his race.
They were as unquiet as cattle before an approaching storm, and when
they returned to the drawing-room it seemed to him like a scene in a
theatre about to be withdrawn to make way for another part of the story.
Even while looking at it, it seemed to have receded a little.
At last it was time for Ulick to go. As they said good-night he asked
her if he should come to lunch. She looked at him, uncertain if she
ought to take him to the concert at all.
Monsignor, who was waiting for her at the steps of the hall which had
been hired for the concert, introduced her to Father Daly, the convent
chaplain. She shook hands with him, and caught sight of him as she did
so. It was but a passing glance of a small, blonde man with white
eyelashes, seemingly too shy to raise his eyes; and she was too
stringently occupied with other thoughts to notice him further.
Owing to her exertions and Monsignor Mostyn's, a large audience had been
collected, and though the month was September, there were many
fashionable, influential and musical people present.
The idea of the band, which Evelyn had thought of bringing down in the
intention of giving the Forest Murmurs and the Bird Music, had been
abandoned, but the finest exponent of Wagner on the piano had come to
play the usual things: the closing scene of the "Walkuere," the overture
of the "Meistersinger" and the Prelude of "Tristan." And, mingled with
the students and apostles from London, were a goodly number of young men
and women from the various villas. Every degree of Wagner culture was
present, from the ten-antlered stag who had seen "Parsifal" given under
the eye of the master to the skipping fawns eagerly browsing upon the
motives. "That is the motive of the Ride; that, dear, is the motive of
the Fire; that is the motive of Slumber in the Fire, and that is the
motive of Siegfried, the pure hero who will be born to save Valhalla."
The class above had some knowledge of the orchestration. "You see," said
a young man, pointing to the score, "here he is writing for the entire
orchestra." "Three bars farther on he is writing for three violins and a
flute. He withdraws his instruments in a couple of bars; it would take
anyone else five-and-twenty." At a little distance the old stag who had
never missed a festival at Bayreuth was telling the young lady at his
side that the "Walkuere" is written in the same style as the "Rheingold"
and the first two acts of "Siegfried." Another distinct change of style
came with the third act of "Siegfried" and the "Dusk of the Gods," which
were not composed till some years later. "Ah, that wonderful later
style! That scale of half-notes! Flats and sharps introduced into every
bar; C, C sharp; D, D sharp; E, F, F sharp; G, G sharp; A, B flat, B,
C. In that scale, or what would seem to be that scale, he balances
himself like an acrobat, springing on to the desired key without
preparation," and so on until the old stag was interrupted by a friend,
a lady who had just recognised him. As she squeezed past, she stopped to
tell him that Wagner had spoiled her for all other music. She had been
to hear Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony once more, but it had seemed to
her like a pious book.
Evelyn sang "Elsa's Dream," "Elizabeth's Prayer" and the "Liebestod,"
and when she was recalled at the end of the concert, she sang Senta's
ballad as a _bonne bouche_, something that the audience had not
expected, and would send her friends away more than ever pleased with
Her father had not been able to come--that was a disappointment--but
Ulick had accompanied her beautifully, following her voice, making the
most of it at every moment. When she left the platform, she took both
his hands and thanked him. She loved him in that instant as a musician
and as a mistress. But the joy of the moment, the ecstasy of admiration,
was interrupted by Monsignor Mostyn and Father Daly. They too wished to
thank her. In his courtly manner, Monsignor told her of the pleasure her
singing had given him. But when Father Daly mentioned that the nuns
expected her to tea, her courage seemed to slip away. The idea of a
convent frightened her, and she tried to excuse herself, arguing that
she had to go back to London.
"If you're engaged for dinner, I'm afraid there will not be time,"
Monsignor said. She looked up, and, meeting his eyes, did not dare to
lie to him.
"No; I'm not dining out, but I promised to take Mr. Dean back in my
"Mr. Dean will, I'm sure, not mind waiting."
It seemed to Evelyn that Monsignor suspected her relations with Ulick,
and to refuse to go to the convent, she thought, would only confirm him
in his suspicions. So she accepted the invitation abruptly, and when
they turned to go, she said--
"My carriage is here; I'll drive you," and, at the same moment, she
remembered that Ulick was waiting. But she felt that she could not drive
back to London with him after leaving the convent, and she hoped that
Monsignor would not correctly interpret the disappointment which was
plain upon his face. No; he must go back by train--no, there would be no
use his calling that evening at Park Lane.
She wore a black and white striped silk dress, with a sort of muslin
bodice covered with lace, and there was a large bunch of violets in her
waistband. The horses were beautiful in the sunshine, and their red
hides glistened in the long, slanting rays. She put up her parasol and
tried to understand, but she could only see the angles of houses, and
the eccentricity of every passer-by. She saw very clearly the thin,
facial line, and her eyes rested on the touch of purple at the throat to
mark his Roman dignity. Father Daly sat opposite, rubbing his thumbs
like one in the presence of a superior. He was not ill-looking, but so
shy that his features passed unperceived, and it was some time before
she saw his eyes; they were always cast down, and his thin, well-cut
nose disappeared in his freckled cheeks. The cloth he wore was coarser
than Monsignor's; his heavy shoes contrasted with the finely-stitched
and buckled shoes of the Papal prelate.
This visit to the convent frightened Evelyn more than the largest
audience that had ever assembled to hear her, and, until they got clear
of the town, she was not certain she would not plead some excuse and
tell the coachman to turn back. But now it was too late. The carriage
ascended the steep street, and, at the top of it, the town ended
abruptly at the edge of the common. On one side was a high brick wall,
hiding the grounds and gardens of the villas; on the other was the
common, seen through the leaves of a line of thin trees. In her nervous
agitation, she saw very distinctly--the foreground teeming with the
animation of cricket, the more remote parts solitary, the windmill
hovering in a corner out of the way of the sunset, and two horsemen and
a horsewoman cantering along the edge of the long valley into which the
plain dropped precipitously. The sun sank in a white sky, and Evelyn
caught the point of one of the ribs of her parasol, so that she could
hold it in a better position to shade her eyes, and she saw how the
houses stretched into a point, the last being an inn, no doubt the noisy
resort of the cricketers and the landscape painters. There was a painter
making his way towards the valley, his paint-box on his back. But at
that moment the carriage turned into a lane where a paling enclosed the
small gardens. She then noticed the decaying pear or apple tree, to
which was attached a clothes-line. Enormous sunflowers weltered in the
dusty corners. The brick was crumbling and broken, beautiful in colour,
"And in every one of these cottages someone is living; someone is
laughing; someone will soon be dead. Good heavens, how strange!"
"We are nearly there."
Evelyn started; it was Father Daly speaking to her. "The cottages have
spoilt the appearance on this side, but the view is splendid from the
The lane ascended and Evelyn remembered how the house stood inside a
wall behind some trees, looking westward, the last southern end of the
common land as the windmill was the last northern end. There had been
iron gates when a great City merchant lived in the Georgian house, which
had been gradually transformed to suit the requirements of the sisters.
The melancholy little peal of the bell hanging on a loose wire sounded
far away, and in the interval Evelyn noticed the large double door,
from which the old green paint was peeling. A step was heard within, and
the little shutter which closed the grated peephole in the panel of the
door was drawn back; the eyes and forehead band of a nun appeared for an
instant in the opening; and then with a rattle of keys the door was
hastily opened and the little porteress, with ruddy cheeks and a shy
smile, stood aside to let Evelyn pass in. She kissed the hand of
Monsignor as he turned to her with a kindly word of salutation. "The
Reverend Mother is expecting you," she said, her agitation being due to
the importance of the occasion.
"No doubt they have been praying that I might sing well, poor dears,"
Evelyn thought, as she followed the nun up the paved, covered way.
Through the iron frame-work, woven through and through with creepers and
monthly roses, she caught glimpses of the partly-obliterated carriage
drive, and of the neatly-kept flower beds filled with geraniums and
tall, white asters.
In the hall an Adam's ceiling radiated in graceful lines from a central
medallion, and before a statue of the Sacred Heart a light was burning.
Evelyn remembered how the poor lay sisters laboured to keep the stone
floor spotless, and it was into the parlour on the left, which Evelyn
remembered to be the best parlour, that Sister Angela ushered them.
In the old days, before a sudden crisis on the Stock Exchange had
obliged the owner to sell the house for much less than its true value to
the little community of sisters of the Passion who were then seeking a
permanent house, this room, round which Evelyn and the two priests were
looking for seats, had been used as a morning-room. Three long French
windows looked out on the garden, and the flowers and air made it a
bright, cheerful room, in spite of the severe pictures on the walls. She
recognised at once the engraving of Leonardo's "Last Supper" which hung
over the solid marble chimney piece a little above the statue of Our
Lady of Lourdes and the two blue vases, and also the pale, distempered
walls, and the coloured, smiling portrait of the Pope, and a full-length
photograph of Cardinal Manning, signed in his own clear, neat
Evelyn and the priests, still undecided where they should sit, looked at
the little horsehair sofa. Monsignor brought forward for her one of the
six high, straight-backed chairs, and they sat at the circular table
laid out with severe books; a volume of the _Lives of the Saints_ lay
under her hand, and she glanced at a little box for contributions. She
looked at the priests and then round the room, striving to penetrate the
meaning which it vaguely conveyed to her--an indescribable air of
scrupulous neatness and cleanliness, a sense of virginal dulness. But
suddenly a startling sense of the incongruity came upon her, that she,
the opera-singer, Owen Asher's mistress, should be admitted into a
convent, should be received, the honoured guest of holy women. And she
got up, leaving the two priests to discuss the financial results of the
concert, and stood gazing out at the window. There was the rosery with
the lilac bushes shutting out the view of the green fields beyond; and
this was the portion of the garden given up to visitors and boarders.
She used to walk there during the retreat. Away to the right was the
big, sunny garden where the nuns went for their daily recreation. By
special permission she had once been allowed there; she remembered the
sloping lawns, the fringe of stately elms, and over them the view
westward of Richmond Park. She thought of the nuns walking under their
trees, half ghost-like, half sybil-like they used to seem in their grey
habits with their long grey veils falling picturesquely, their thoughts
fixed on an infinite life, and this life never seeming more to them than
a little passing shadow.
Evelyn returned slowly to the table. The priests were talking of the
convent choir; Monsignor turned to address a question to her, but before
he spoke, the door opened and two nuns entered, hardly of this world did
they seem in their long grey habits.
The Reverend Mother, a small, thin woman, with eager eyes and a nervous,
intimate manner, hastened forward. Evelyn felt that the Reverend Mother
could not be less than sixty, yet she did not think of her as an old
woman. Between her rapid utterances an expression of sadness came upon
her face, instilled through the bright eyes, and Evelyn contrasted her
with Mother Philippa, the sub-prioress. Even the touch of these women's
hands was different. There was a nervous emotion in the Reverend
Mother's hand. Mother Philippa's hand when it touched Evelyn's expressed
somehow a simpler humanity.
She was a short, rather stout, homely-faced Englishwoman, about
thirty-eight or forty, such a woman as is met daily on the croquet lawns
in our suburbs, probably one of three plain sisters, and never could
have doubted her vocation.
"I cannot tell you how grateful we are, Miss Innes, for what you have
done for us. Monsignor will have told you of the straits we are in....
But you are an old friend, I understand of our convent. Mother Philippa,
our sub-prioress, tells me you made a retreat here seven or eight years
"I don't think it was more than six years," Mother Philippa said,
correcting the Reverend Mother. "I remember you very well, Miss Innes.
You left us one Easter morning."
Evelyn liked her plain, matter-of-fact face, a short face
undistinguished by any special characteristic, yet once seen it could
not be forgotten, so implicit was it of her practical mind and a desire
to serve someone.
"That silly Sister Agnes has forgotten the strawberry jam," she said,
when the porteress brought in the tea. "I will run and fetch it; I
shan't be a moment."
"Oh, Mother Philippa, pray don't trouble; I prefer some of that cake."
"No, no, I've been thinking all the afternoon of this jam; we make it
ourselves; you must have some."
The Reverend Mother apologised for having put sugar in Evelyn's tea, for
she remembered now that Evelyn had said that she did not like sugar; and
Monsignor took advantage of the occasion to reassure the Reverend Mother
that the success of the concert had been much greater than he had
anticipated.... Thanks to Miss Innes, he hoped to be able to hand her a
cheque for more than two hundred pounds. This was more than double the
sum she had hoped to receive.
"We shall always pray for you," she said, taking Evelyn's hand. "I
cannot tell you what a load you have taken off my shoulders, for, of
course, the main responsibility rests upon me."
Evelyn regretted that the nuns could not have tea with her, and wondered
whether they were ever allowed to partake of their own excellent
home-made cake. She was beginning to enjoy her visit, and to acquire an
interest in the welfare of the convent. She had hitherto only devoted
her money to selfish ends; but now she resolved that, if she could help
it, these poor sisters should not be driven from their convent. Mother
Phillippa asked her suddenly why she had not been to see them before.
Evelyn answered that she had been abroad. But living abroad meant to the
nun the pleasure of living in Catholic countries, and she was eager to
know if Evelyn had had the privilege of going to Rome. She smiled at the
nun's innocent curiosity, which she was glad to gratify, and told her
about the old Romanesque churches on the Rhine, and the hundred marble
spires of the Cathedral of Milan. But in the midst of such pleasant
conversation came an unfortunate question. Mother Philippa asked if
Evelyn had travelled with her father. Any simple answer would have
sufficed, but she lost her presence of mind, and the "No," which came at
last was so weak and equivocal that the Reverend Mother divined in that
moment some part of the truth. Evelyn sat as if tongue-tied, and it was
Monsignor who came to her rescue by explaining that she had sung in St.
Petersburg, Vienna, Paris, and all the capitals of Europe.
"You must excuse us," the Reverend Mother said, "for not knowing, but
these things do not penetrate convent walls."
The conversation dropped, and the Reverend Mother took advantage of the
occasion to suggest that they should visit the chapel.
Mother Philippa walked on with the priests in front, leaving Evelyn with
the Reverend Mother.
"I am forced to walk very slowly on account of my heart. I hope you
don't mind, Miss Innes?"
"Your heart, Reverend Mother? You suffer from your heart? I'm so sorry."
The Reverend Mother said the new chapel had been built by the celebrated
Catholic architect, and mentioned how the last three years of the
Reverend Mother's life had been given over to this work Evelyn knew that
the mouldings and carving and the stained glass had caused the pecuniary
embarrassments of the convent, and did not speak of them She was told
that the architect had insisted that every detail should be in keeping,
and understood that the thirteenth century had proved the ruin of the
convent; every minor decoration was faithful to it--the very patterns
stitched in wool on the cushions of the _prie-dieu_ were strictly Gothic
Only the lower end of the nave was open to the public; the greater part
was enclosed within a high grille of gilded ironwork of an elaborate
design, through which Evelyn could vaguely discern the plain oak stalls
of the nuns on either side, stretching towards the ornate altar, carved
in white stone. And falling through the pointed windows, the long rays
slanted across the empty chapel; in the golden air there was a faint
sense of incense; it recalled the Benediction and the figures of the
departed watchers who had knelt motionless all day before the elevated
Host. The faintly-burning lamp remained to inspire the mind with
instinctive awe and a desire of worship. And as always, in the presence
of the Blessed Sacrament, Evelyn's doubts vanished, and she knelt in
momentary prayer beside the two nuns.
Then at her request they went into the garden. It was the part of the
convent she remembered best. She recognised at once the broad terrace
walk extending the full length of the house, from the new wing to the
rose garden whence some steps led to the lower grounds. They were
several acres in extent and sloped gently to the south-west. The
Reverend Mother and the priests had turned to the left; they had
business matters to discuss and were going round the garden by the outer
walk. Evelyn and Mother Philippa chose the middle path. The sunset was
before them, and the wistfulness of a distant park sinking into blue
mist. Evelyn thought that in all her travels she had never seen anything
so lovely as the convent garden in that evening light. It filled her
soul with an ecstatic sense of peace and joy, and a sudden passionate
desire to share this life of calm and happy seclusion brought tears to
her eyes. She could not speak, but Mother Philippa, with a single, quick
glance, seemed instinctively to understand, and it was in silence that
they walked down a grassy path, that led between the narrow beds filled
with a gay tangle of old-fashioned flowers, to a little summer-house.
Behind the summer-house, at the bottom of the garden, was a broad walk
pleasantly shaded by the overhanging branches of the elms.
"We call this St. Peter's path," Mother Philippa said placidly, "and for
his feast the novices put up his statue in the summer-house and decorate
it with flowers. They always come here for their mid-day recreation."
"Your garden is quite lovely, Mother Philippa; I remember it all so
They wandered on, past the apple and plum trees laden with fruit--they
made a pretty orchard in one corner; and while the nun passed here and
there gathering flowers, Evelyn stood gazing, recalling all her girlish
impressions. Almost every turn in the walks recalled some innocent
aspiration, some girlish feeling of love and reverence. In every nook
there was a statue of the Virgin, or a cross whereby the thoughts of the
passer-by might be recalled to the essential object of her life. She
remembered how she had stopped one morning before the crucifix which
stood on the top of some rocks at the end of the garden. She had stopped
as in a dream, and for a long while had stood looking at the face of the
dying Redeemer, praying to his Father for pardon for them that
persecuted him. She had felt as if crazed with love, and had walked up
the pathway feeling that the one thing of worth in the world was to live
for him who had died for her. But she had betrayed him. She had chosen
Mother Philippa added another flower to the bouquet. She looked at it
and, regarding it as finished, she presented it to Evelyn.
"I hope I did not say anything that caused you pain in the parlour. If I
did you must know that I did not mean it. I I hope your father is quite
"Yes, he's quite well. You did not offend me, Mother Philippa," she
said, raising her eyes, and in that moment the two women felt they
understood each other in some mute and far-off way.
"The day you left us was Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful morning, and
you walked round the rose garden with an old lady; she asked you to
sing, and you sung her two little songs."
"Yes, I remember; her hair was quite white, and she walked with a
"I am glad you remember; I feared that you had forgotten, as you were so
long coming back. I often prayed for you that you might come and see us.
I always felt that you would come back, and when one feels like that, it
Evelyn raised her eyes, drawing delight from the nun's happy and
contented face. She experienced an exquisite idea, a holy intimacy of
feeling; there was a breathless exaltation in the heavens and on the
earth, and the wild cry of a startled bird darting through the
shrubberies sounded like a challenge or defiance. The sunset grew
narrower in the slate-coloured sky, and the long plain of the common
showed under two bars of belated purple. The priests and the Reverend
Mother went up the steps and were about to enter the convent. Evelyn and
Mother Philippa lingered by a distant corner of the garden marked by
nine tall crosses.
"When I was here there were but six. I remember Sister Bonaventure, thin
and white, and so weak that she could not move. She was dying far from
all she knew, yet she was quite happy. It was we who were unhappy."
"She was happy, for her thoughts were set upon God. How could she be
otherwise than happy when she knew she was going to him?"
A few minutes after, Evelyn was bidding the nuns good-night. The
Reverend Mother hoped that when she made another retreat she would be
their guest. Mother Philippa was disappointed that they had not heard
her sing. Perhaps one day she might sing to them. They would see how it
could be arranged: perhaps at Benediction when she came to make another
retreat. Evelyn smiled, and the carriage passed into the night.
The dawn crept through her closed eyelids, and burying her face in the
pillows, she sought to retain the receding dream.
But out of the gloom which she divined and through which a face looked,
a face which she could not understand, but which she must follow, there
came a sound as of someone moving. The dream dissolved in the sound, she
opened her eyes, and upon her lips there was terror, and she could not
move.... Nor did she dare to look, and when her eyes turned towards the
doorway she could not see beyond it; she could not remember if she had
left the door ajar. Shadows gathered, and again came the awful sound of
someone; she slipped under the bedclothes, and lay there stark, frozen
with terror. When she summoned sufficient courage, she looked towards
the shadowy doorway, but the passage beyond it was filled with nameless
foreboding shapes from an under-world; and the thought that the sound
she had heard had been caused by her clothes slipping from a chair
failed to reassure her. She was as cold as a corpse in a grave. She felt
that it was her duty to explore the dark, but to get out of bed to stand
in that grey room and look into the passage was more than she dared; she
could only lie still and endure the sensation of hands at her throat and
breath above her face.
A little later she was able to distinguish the pattern of the
wall-paper, and as she followed its design human life seemed black and
intolerably loathsome. She strove against the thought, but she saw the
creature leer so plainly that there was no way of escaping from the
conviction that what she had accepted as life was but a mask worn by a
leper. The vision persisted for what seemed a long while, and when it
faded it was pictures of her own life that she read upon the wall; her
soul cried out against the miserable record of her sins, and turning on
her pillow she saw the dawn--the inexorable light that was taking her
back to life, to sin, and all the miserable routine of vanity and
selfishness which she would have to begin again. She had left her
father, though she knew he would be lonely and unhappy without her. She
had lived with Owen when she knew it was wrong, and she had acquiesced
in his blasphemies, and by reading evil books she had striven to
undermine her faith in God. It seemed to her incredible that anyone
should be capable of such wickedness, yet she was that very one; she
had committed all sins, and in her great misery she wished herself dead,
so that she might think no more.
With eyes wide open to the dawn and to her soul she lay hour after hour.
She heard the French clock strike six sharp strokes, and unable to
endure her hot bed any longer, she got up, slipped her arms into a
dressing-gown, and went down to the drawing-room. It was filled with a
grey twilight, and the street was grey-blue and silent save for the
sparrows. Sitting on the edge of the sofa she remembered the convent.
The nuns had thought her a good Catholic, and she had had to pretend she
was. Monsignor, it is true, had turned the conversation and saved her
from exposure. But what then? She knew, and he knew, everyone knew; Lady
Ascott, Lady Mersey, Lady Duckle very probably didn't care, but
appearances had to be preserved, and she had to tell lies to them all.
Her life had become a network of lies. There was no corner of her life
into which she could look without finding a lie. She had been faithful
to no one, not even to Owen. She had another lover, and she had sent
Owen away on account of scruples of conscience! She could not understand
herself; she had taken Ulick to Dowlands and had lived with him
there--in her father's house. So awful did her life seem to her that her
thoughts stopped, and she became possessed of the desire of escape which
takes a trapped animal and forces it to gnaw off one of its legs. She
must escape from this life of lies whatever it cost her; she must free
herself. But how? If she went to Monsignor he would tell her she must
leave the stage, and she had promised to create the part of Grania. She
had promised, and she hated not keeping her promise. He would say it was
impossible for her to remain on the stage and live a virtuous life; he
would tell her that she must refuse to see Owen. She was still very fond
of him, and would like to see him sometimes. What reason could she give
to her friends for refusing to see him? what reason could she give for
leaving the stage?--to do so would set everyone talking. Everyone would
want to know why; Lady Ascott, Lady Mersey, all her friends. How was she
to separate herself from her surroundings? Wherever she went she would
be known. Her friends would follow her, lovers would follow her,
temptations would begin again, would she have strength to resist? "Not
always," was the answer her heart gave back. A great despair fell upon
her, and she walked up the room. Stopping at the window she looked out,
and all reform of her life seemed to her impossible. She was hemmed in
on every side. If she could only think of it no more! She had adopted an
evil life and must pursue it to the end. She must be wretched in this
life, and be punished eternally in the next.
Hearing a footstep on the stairs, she drew herself behind the door, and
when the sound passed downstairs she tried to reason with herself. After
all, the housemaid would have been merely surprised to find her in the
drawing-room at that hour. She could not have guessed why she was there.
She ran up the stairs, and when she had closed the door of her room she
stood looking at the clock. It was not yet seven, and Herat did not come
to her room till half-past nine. She must try to get to sleep between
this and then. She lay with her eyes closed, and did not perceive that a
thin, shallow sleep had come upon her, for she continued to think the
same thoughts; fear of God and hatred of sin assumed even more
terrifying proportions, and she started like a hunted animal when Merat
came in with her bath. "I hope Mademoiselle is not ill?" "No, I am not
ill, only I have not slept at all."
In order to distract her thoughts, she went for a walk after breakfast
in the park, but any casual sight sufficed to recall them to the one
important question. She could not see the children sailing their toy
boats without thinking her ambitions were as futile, and a chance
glimpse of a church spire frightened her so that she turned her back and
walked the other way. In the afternoon she tried to interest herself in
some music, but her hands dropped from the keys, so useless did it
appear to her. At four she was dreaming of Owen in an armchair. The
servant suddenly announced him, and he came in, seemingly recovered from
his gout and his old age. His figure was the perfect elegance of a man
of forty-three, and in such beautiful balance that an old admiration
awakened in her. His "waistcoats and his valet," she thought, catching
sight of the embroideries and the pale, subdued, terrified air of the
personal servant. The valet carried a parcel which Evelyn guessed to be
a present for her. It was a tea-service of old Crown Derby that Owen had
happened upon in Bath, and they spent some time examining its pale roses
and gilt pattern. She expected him to refer to their last interview, but
he avoided doing so, preferring to take it for granted that he still was
her lover, and he did so without giving her sufficient occasion to
correct him on this point. He was affectionate and intimate; he sat
beside her on the sofa, and talked pleasantly of the benefit he had
derived from the waters, of the boredom of hotel life, and of a concert
given in aid of a charity.
"But that reminds me," he said; "I heard about the Wimbledon concert,
and was sorry you did not write to me for a subscription. Lady
Merrington told me about the nuns; they spent all their money building a
chapel, and had not enough to eat."
"I didn't think you would care to subscribe to a convent."
"Now, why did you think that? Poor devils of nuns, shut up in a convent
without enough to eat. Of course I'll subscribe; I'll send them a cheque
for ten pounds to-morrow."
This afternoon, whether by accident or design, he said no word that
might jar on her religious scruples; he even appeared to sympathise with
religious life, and admitted that the world was not much, and to
renounce the world was sublime. The conversation paused, and he said, "I
think the tea-service suits the room. You haven't thanked me for it yet,
"I don't know that I ought to accept any more presents from you. I have
accepted too much as it is."
She was conscious of her feebleness. It would have been better to have
said, "I am another man's mistress," but she could not speak the words,
and he asked if they might have tea in the new service. She did not
answer, so he rang, and when the servant left the room he took her hands
and drew her closer to him. "I am another man's mistress, you must not
touch me," rang in her brain, but he did not kiss her, and the truth was
"Lady Duckle is still at Homburg, is she not?" he asked, but he was
thinking of the inexplicable event each had been in the other's life.
They had wandered thus far, now their paths divided, for nothing
endures. That is the sadness, the incurable sadness! He was getting too
old for her; in a few more years he would be fifty. But he had hoped
that this friendship would continue to the end of the chapter. And while
he was thinking these things, Evelyn was telling him that Lady Duckle
had met Lady Mersey at Homburg, and had gone on with her to Lucerne,
where they hoped to meet Lady Ascott.
"You are going to shoot with Lord Ascott next month?" she said, and
looking at him she wondered if their relations were after all no more
than a chance meeting and parting. While he spoke of Lord Ascott's
pheasant shooting, she felt that whatever happened neither could divorce
the other from his or her faults.
"How beautiful the park is now, I like the view from your windows. I
like this hour; a sense of resignation is in the air."
"Yes," she said, "the sky is beautifully calm," and she experienced a
return of old tendernesses, and she had no scruple, for he did not make
love to her, and did not kiss her until he rose to leave. Then he kissed
her on the forehead and on the cheek, and refrained from asking if they
Never had he been nicer than he had been that afternoon, and she dared
not look into her heart, for she did not wish to think that she would
send him away. Why should she send him away? why not the other? She
could not answer this question; she only knew that the choice had fallen
upon Owen. She must send him away, but what reasons should she give? She
felt that her conduct that afternoon had rendered a complete rupture in
their relations more difficult than ever. It was as she lay sleepless in
bed long after midnight that the solution of the difficulty suddenly
sounded in her brain. She must write to him saying that he might come to
see her once more, but that it must be for the last time. This was the
way out of her difficulty, and she turned over in her bed, feeling she
might now get to sleep. But instead of sleep there began the very words
of this last interview, and her brain teemed with different plans for
escape from her lover. She saw herself on ocean steamers, in desert
isles, and riding wild horses through mountain passes. Barred doors,
changes of name, all means were passed and reviewed; each was in turn
dismissed, and the darkness about her bed was like a flame. There was no
doubt that she was doomed to another night of insomnia. The bell of the
French clock struck three, and, quite exhausted, she got up and walked
about the room. "In another hour I shall hear the screech of the sparrow
on the window-sill, and may lie awake till Merat comes to call me." She
lay down, folded her arms, closed her eyes and began to count the sheep
as they came through the gate. But thoughts of Owen began to loom up,
and in spite of her efforts to repress them, they grew more and more
distinct. The clock struck four, and soon after it seemed to her that
the darkness was lightening. For a long while she did not dare to open
her eyes. At last she had to open them, and the grey-blue light was
indescribably mournful. Again her life seemed small, black and evil. She
jumped out of bed, passed her arms into a tea-gown, and paced the room.
She must see Owen. She must tell him the truth. Once he knew the truth
he would not care for her, and that would make the parting easier for
both. She did not believe that this was so, but she had to believe
something, and she went down to the drawing-room and wrote--
"DEAR OWEN--You may come and see me to-morrow if you care to. I am
afraid that your visit will not be a pleasant one. I don't think I could
be an agreeable companion to anyone at present, but I cannot send you
away without explaining why. However painful that explanation may be to
you, there is at all events this to be said, that it will be doubly
painful to me. I am not, dear Owen, ungrateful; that you should think me
so is the hardest punishment of all, and I am sorry I have not made you
happier. I know other women don't feel as I do, but I can't change
myself. I feel dreadfully hypocritical writing in this strain. I, less
than anyone have a right to do so, especially now. But you will try to
understand. You know that I am not a hypocrite at heart. I am determined
to tell you all, and you will then see that no course is open to me but
to send you away. Even if you were to promise that we should be friends
we must not see each other, but I don't think that you would care to see
me on those terms. I should have stopped you yesterday when you took my
hand, when you kissed me, but I was weak and cowardly. Somehow I could
not bring myself to tell you the truth. I shall expect you in the
afternoon, and will tell you all. I am punishing myself as well as you.
So please don't try to make things more difficult than they are.--Yours
very sincerely, EVELYN INNES."
Leaving this letter with directions that it should be posted at once,
weary, and with her brain as clear as crystal, she threw herself upon
her bed. Folding her arms, she closed her eyes, and strove to banish
thoughts of Owen and the confession she was to make that afternoon. But
when sleep gathered about her eyes, the memory of past sins, at first
dense, then with greater clearness, shone through, and the traitor sleep
moved away. Or she would suddenly find herself in the middle of the
interview, the entire dialogue standing clear cut in her brain, she
could almost see the punctuation of every sentence. Once more she
counted the sheep coming through the gate; she counted and counted,
until her imagination failed her, and in spite of herself, her eyes
opened upon the dreaded room. She heard the clock strike nine. Merat
would knock at her door in another half-hour, and she lay waiting,
fearing her arrival. But at last her face grew quieter, she seemed to
see Monsignor vaguely, she could not tell where nor how he had come to
her, but she heard him saying distinctly that she must never sing Isolde
again. He seemed to bar her way to the stage, and the music that was to
bring her on sounded in her ears, yet she could see the shape of her
room and its furniture. A knock came at the door, and she was surprised
to find that she had been asleep.
Her brain was a ferment; it seemed as if it were about to fall out of
her head; she feared the day, its meal times and the long hours of
morning and evening sunshine. The idea of the coming interview with Owen
was intolerable. Her brain was splitting, she could not think of what
she would say. But her letter had gone! After breakfast she felt a
little rested, and went into the park and remained there till lunch
time, dimly aware of the open air, the waving of branches, the sound of
human voices. Beyond these, and much more distinct, was a vision of her
evil life, and the cold, stern face of the priest watching her. She
wandered about, and then hastened back to Park Lane. Owen had been. He
had left word that he would call again about three o'clock. He would
have stayed, but had an engagement to lunch with friends. She lunched
alone, and was sitting on the corner of the sofa, heavy-eyed and weary,
but determined to be true to her resolutions, when the servant announced
him. He came in hurriedly, his hat in his hand, and his eyes went at
once to where she was sitting. He saw she was looking ill, but there
were more important matters to speak of.
"I came at once, the moment I got your letter. I should have waited, but
I was lunching with Lady Merrington. Such terribly boring people were
there. It was all I could do to prevent myself from rushing out of the
room. But, Evelyn, what are you determined to tell me? I thought we
parted good friends yesterday. You have been thinking it over.... You're
going to send me away." He sat beside her, he held his hat in both
hands, and looked perplexed and worried. "But, Evelyn"--she sat like a
figure of stone, there was no colour in her cheeks nor any expression in
her eyes or mouth--"Evelyn, I am afraid you are ill, you are pale as a
"I did not sleep last night, nor the night before."
"Two nights of insomnia are enough to break anyone up. I am very sorry,
Evelyn, dear--you ought to go away." Her silence perplexed him, and he
said, "Evelyn, I have come to ask you to be my wife. Don't keep me in
suspense. Will you give up the stage and be my wife? Why don't you
answer? Oh, Evelyn, is it--are you married?"
"No, I am not married, Owen. I don't suppose I ever shall be. If you had
wished to marry me--"
"I know all that, that if I wanted to marry you I ought to have done so
long ago. But you said you were determined to tell me something--what is
it?" The expression of her face did not change; her lips moved a little,
she cast down her eyes, and said, "I've got another lover."
He felt that he ought to get very angry, and that to do so was in a way
expected of him. He thought he had better say something energetic, lest
she should think that he did not care for her. But he was so overcome by
the thought of his escape--it was now no longer possible for her to send
him away--that he could think of nothing. It even seemed to him that
everything was happening for the best, for he did not doubt that she
would soon tire, if she were not tired already, of this musician, and
then he would easily regain his old influence over her. Even if she did
marry this musician, she'd get tired of him, and then who knows
--anything was better than that she should go over to that infernal
priest. While rejoicing in the defeat of his hated rival, he was anxious
that Evelyn should not perceive what was passing in his mind, and,
afraid to betray himself, he said nothing, leaving her to conjecture
what she pleased from his silence.
"I don't intend to defend my conduct; it is indefensible.... But, Owen,
I want you to believe that I did not lie to you. Ulick was not my lover
when I went to see you that evening in Berkeley Square."
It was necessary to say something, and, feeling that any unguarded word
would jeopardise his chances, he said--
"I think I told you that night that you liked Ulick Dean. I can quite
understand it; he is a nice fellow enough. Are you going to marry him?"
"No, I am not in love with him--I never was. I liked him merely."
"I can understand; all those hours you spent with him studying Isolde."
"Yes, it was that music, it gets on one's nerves.... But, Owen, there is
"We'll think no more about it, Evelyn. I am glad you do not love him.
My greatest fear was to lose you altogether."
She was touched by his kindness, as he expected she would be, and he sat
looking at her, keeping as well as he could all expression from his
face. He thought that he had got over the greatest difficulty, and he
congratulated himself on his cleverness. The question now was, what was
the next move?
"You are not looking very well, Evelyn. You don't sleep--you want a
change. The _Medusa_ is at Cowes; what do you say for a sail?"
"Owen, dear, I cannot go with you. If I did, you know how it would end,
I being what I am, and you being what you are. There would be no sense
in my going yachting unless I went as your mistress, and I cannot do
"You love that fellow Ulick Dean too much."
"I don't love him at all.... Owen, you will never understand."
"Understand!" he cried, starting to his feet, "this is madness, Evelyn.
I see! I suppose you think it wrong to have two lovers at the same time.
Grace has come to you through sin. You are going to get rid of both of
Evelyn sat quite still as if hypnotised. She was very sorry for him, but
for no single moment did she think she would yield.
Suddenly he asked her why he should be the one to be sent away, and he
pleaded the rights of old friendship, going even so far as to suggest
that even if she liked Ulick better she should not refuse to see him
"I have no right to seem shocked at anything you may say. I told you
Ulick was my lover, but I did not say he was going to remain my lover."
"Then what are you going to do? Will that priest get hold of you? I know
him--I was at Eton with him. He always was--" and Owen muttered
something under his breath. "Surely, Evelyn, you are not thinking of
going to confession. After all my teaching has it come to this? My God!"
he said, as he walked up the room, "I'd sooner Ulick got you than that
damned hypocritical fool. You are much too good for God," he said,
turning suddenly and looking at her, remarking at that moment the pretty
oval of her face, the arched eyebrows, the clear, nervous eyes. "You'll
be wasted on religion."
"From your point of view, I suppose I shall be."
They talked on and on, saying what they had said many times before.
Sometimes Evelyn seemed to follow his arguments, and thinking that he
was convincing her, he would break off suddenly. "Well, will you come
for a cruise with me in the _Medusa_? I'll ask all your friends--we'll
have such a pleasant time."
"No, Owen, no, it's impossible, you don't understand. I don't blame
you--you never will understand."
And they looked at each other like wanderers standing on the straits
dividing two worlds. The hands of the clock pointed to five o'clock. The
servants had taken the tea-service away. Owen had urged Evelyn not to
abandon the stage; he had urged the cause of Art; he had urged that her
voice was her natural vocation; he had spoken of their love, and of the
happiness they had found in each other--the conversation had drifted
from an argument concerning the authenticity of the Gospels to a lake
where they had spent a season five years ago. She saw again the reedy
reaches and the steep mountain shores. They had been there in the month
of September, and the leaves of the vine were drooping, and the grapes
ready for gathering. They had been sweethearts only a little while, and
the drives about the lake was one of his happiest memories.
"Evelyn, you cannot mean that you will never see me again?"
His eyes filled with tears, and she turned her head aside so that she
might not see them.
"Life is very difficult, Owen; try not to make it more difficult."
"Evelyn, I had hoped that our friendship would have continued to the
end. I never cared for any other woman, and when you are my age and look
back, you will find that there is one, I don't say I shall be the one,
who--" His voice trembled, and he passed his hand across his eyes.
"It's very sad, Owen, and life is very difficult.... There is this
consolation for you, that I am not sending you away on account of anyone
else. Ulick must go too."
"That does not make it any better for me. By God, I'd sooner that he got
you than that infernal religion. Evelyn, Evelyn, it is impossible that
an idea, a mere idea, should take you from me. It is inhuman, unnatural,
I can't realise it!"
"Owen, you must go now."
"Evelyn, I don't understand. It is just as if you told me you were
tallow, and would melt if there was a fire lighted. But never mind, I'll
accept your ideas--I'll accept anything. Let us be married to-morrow."
She was frightened in the depths of her feelings, and seemed to lose all
control of her will.
"Owen, I cannot marry you. Why do you ask me? You know it is now more
than ever impossible."
His face changed expression, but he was urged forward by an irresistible
force that seemed to rise up from the bottom of his being and blind his
"You don't love him, it was only a caprice; we'll think no more about
She sought the truth in her soul, but it seemed to elude her. She was
like a blind person in a vague, unknown space, and not being able to
discover the reason why she refused him, she insisted that Ulick was the
"Are you going to marry him?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Don't you wish to? He is your father's friend."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Destiny, I suppose."
The question was too profound for discussion, and they sat silent for a
long while. A chance remark turned their talk upon Balzac, and Owen
spoke about _Le Lys dans la Vallee_, and she asked him if he remembered
the day he had first spoken to her about Balzac.
"It was the day you took me to the races, our first week in Paris."
"And a few days afterwards I took you to Madame Savelli's. She told you
that you had the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. You could not
speak; you were so excited that I was obliged to send you off for a
drive in the Bois. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember.... You were always very good to me."
They talked on and on, conscious of the hands of the clock moving on
towards their divided lives. When it struck seven, she said he must go,
but he begged to be allowed to stay till a quarter past, and in this
last period he urged that their separation should not be final. He
pleaded that a time should be set on his alienation, and ended by
extracting from her a sort of half promise that she would allow him to
come and see her in three months. But he and she knew that they would
never meet again, and the sad thought floated up into their eyes as they
said good-bye. She went to the window, wondering if he would stay a
moment to look back. He stood on the edge of the pavement, and she
watched him unmoved. She was thinking of Monsignor, and of how he would
approve of her conduct. He would tell her that what she liked and
disliked was no longer the question. Owen still stood on the kerb, but
she did not even see him. Her eyes looked into the sunset, and she was
thrilled with a mysterious joy, a joy that came from the heart, not from
passions, and it was exquisitely subtle as the light that faded in the
He walked up Park Lane, staring now and then at the quaint balconies
from a mere habit of admiration. But all were indifferent to him, even
the one supported by the four Empire figures. It did not seem that
anything in the world could interest him again, and he wondered how he
would get through the years that remained to him to live. He was tired
of hunting and shooting; he had seen everything there was to be seen; he
had been round the world twice; it did not seem to him that he would
ever care for another woman, and he reflected with pride that he had
been faithful to Evelyn for six years. "But I shall never see her
again," his heart wailed; "in three months she'll be a different woman;
she won't want to see me, she'll find some excuse. That infernal priest
will refuse his absolution if--" Owen stopped suddenly. Far away a
little pink cloud dissolved mysteriously. "In another second," he
thought, "it will be no more." In the Green Park the trees rocked in the
soft autumn air, and he noticed that now and then a leaf broke from its
twig, fluttered across the path, and fell by the iron railings.
"Well, Asher, how is it that you are in town at this time of year?"
It was a club acquaintance, one of the ordinary conventional men that
Owen met by the dozen in every one of his clubs, a man whose next
question would surely be, "How are your two-year-olds?"
"I should like to hear that they had all broken their legs," Owen
answered through his teeth, and the colour mounted in his cheeks.
"Asher always was mad ... now he seems madder than ever. What did he
mean by saying he wished his two-year-olds had all broken their legs?"
Owen lingered on the kerb, inveighing against the stupidity of his set.
He had thought of dining at the Turf Club, but after this irritating
incident he felt that he dared not risk it; if anyone were to speak to
him again of his two-year-olds, he felt he would not be able to control
himself. Suddenly he thought of a friend. He must speak to someone....
He need mention no names. He put up his stick and stopped a hansom. A
few minutes took him to Harding's rooms.
The unexpectedness of the visit, and the manner in which Owen strode
about the room, trying to talk of the things that he generally talked
about, while clearly thinking of something quite different, struck
Harding as unusual, and a suspicion of the truth had just begun to dawn
upon him, when, breaking off suddenly, Owen said--
"Swear you'll never speak of what I am going to say--and don't ask for
"I'll tell no one," said Harding, "and the name does not interest me."
"It's this: a woman whom I have known many years--a friendship that I
thought would go on to the end of the chapter--told me to-day that it
was all finished, that she never wanted to see me again."
"A friendship! Were you her lover?"
"What does it matter? Suffice it to say that she was my dearest friend,
and now I have lost her. She has been taken from me," he said, throwing
his arms into the air. It was a superb gesture of despair, and Harding
could not help smiling.
"So Evelyn has left him. I wonder for whom?" Then, with as much sympathy
as he could call into his voice, he asked if the lady had given any
reason for this sudden dismissal.
"Only that she thinks it wrong; we've been discussing it all the
afternoon. It has made me quite ill;" and he dropped into a chair.
Harding knew perfectly well of whom they were speaking, and Owen knew
that he knew, but it seemed more decorous to refrain from mentioning
names, and Evelyn's soul was discussed as if it were an abstract
quantity, and all indication of the individual incarnation was avoided.
Owen admitted that, notwithstanding many seeming contradictory
appearances, Evelyn had always thought it wrong to live with him, and
yet, notwithstanding her being very fond of him, she had never shown any
eagerness to be married. "Of course it is very wrong," she would say in
her own enchanting way, "but a lover is very exciting, and a husband
always seems dull. I don't think you'd be half as nice as a husband as
you are as a lover." The recital of the Florence episode interested
Harding, but it was the opposition of the priest and the musician that
made the story from his point of view one of the most fascinating he had
ever heard in his life.
They dined together in an old-fashioned club, in a room lighted by wax
candles in silver candlesticks. Tall mirrors in gold frames reflected
the black mahogany furniture. In answer to Owen, who lamented that
Evelyn was sacrificing everything for an idea, Harding spoke, and with
his usual conscious exaltation, of the Christian martyrs, the Spanish
Inquisition, and then Robespierre seemed to him the most striking
example of what men will do for an idea. He mentioned a portrait by
Greuze in which Robespierre appears as a beautiful young man. "Such a
face," he said, "as we might imagine for a lover or a poet, a sort of
Lucien de Rubempre, but in his brain there was a cell containing the
pedantic idea, and for this idea he cut off a thousand heads, and would
have cut off a million. The world must conform to his idea, or it was a
Towards the end of dinner, the head waiter interrupted their
conversation. He lingered about the table, anxious to hear something of
Lord Ascott's two-year-olds; but, in the smoking-room over their coffee,
they returned to the more vital question--the sentimental affections.
They were agreed that the pleasure of love is in loving, not in being
loved, and their reasons were incontrovertible.
"It is the letters," said Harding, "that we write at three in the
morning to tell her how enchanting she was; it is the flowers we send,
the words of love that we speak in her ear, that are our undoing. So
long as we are indifferent, they love us."
"Quite true. At first I did not care for her as much as she did for me,
and I noticed that as soon as I began to fall in love--"
"To aspire, to suffer. Maybe there is no deep pleasure in contentment.
In casting you out she has given you a more intense life."
Owen did not seem to understand. His eye wandered, then returning to
Harding, he said--
"We cannot worship and be worshipped; is that what you mean? If so, I
agree with you. But I'd sooner lose her as I have done than not have
told her that I loved her.... There never was anyone like her. Sympathy,
understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm! it was like living in a
dream. Good God! to think that that priest should have got her; that,
after all my teaching, she should think it wrong to have a lover! I
don't know if you know of whom we are speaking. If you suspect, I can't
help it, but don't ask me. I shouldn't speak of her at all; it is wrong
to speak of her, even though I don't mention her name, but it is
impossible to help it. If you are proud of a woman you must speak of
her--and I was so proud of her. It is very easy to be discreet when you
are ashamed of them," he added, with a laugh. "When I had nothing to do,
I used to sit down and think of her, and I used to say to myself that if
I were the king of the whole world I could not get anything better. But
it is all over now."
"Well, you've had six years, the very prime of her life."
"That's true; you're very sympathetic, Harding. Have another cigarette.
I was faithful to her for six years--you can't understand that, but it
is quite true, and I had plenty of chances, but, when I came to think
of it, it always seemed that I liked her the best."
At the same moment Evelyn stood on her balcony, watching the evening.
The park was breathless, and the sky rose high and pale, and calm as
marble. But the houses seemed to speak unutterable things, and she
closed the window and stood looking across the room. Then walking
towards the sofa as if she were going to sit down, she flung herself
upon it and buried her face among the cushions. She lay there weeping,
and when she raised her face she dashed the tears from her streaming
cheeks, but this pause was only the prelude to another passionate
outbreak, and she wept again, finding in tears fatigue, and in fatigue
relief. She sobbed until she could sob no more, and so tired was she
that she no longer cared what happened; very tired, and her head heavy,
she went upstairs, eager for sleep. And closing her eyes she felt a
delicious numbing of sense, a dissolution of her being into darkness....
But in her waking there was a consciousness, a foreboding of a nameless
dread, of a heavy weight upon her, and when the foreboding in her ears
grew louder, she seemed to know that an irreparable calamity had
happened, and trying to fathom it, she saw the wall-paper, and it told
her she was in her own room. She seemed to be trying to read something
on it, but what she was trying to read and understand seemed to move
away, and her brain laboured in anxious pursuit. Her eyes opened, and
she remembered her interview with Owen. She had sent him away, she
understood it all now, she had sent Owen away! She had told him that
Ulick was her lover, so even if he were to come back it never could be
the same as it was. Why had she told him about Ulick? It was bad enough
to send him away, but she had degraded his memory of her, and the
thought that she had not deceived him, but had told him what he
otherwise might never have known, did not console her just then. She lay
quite still, face to face with, seeing as it were into the eyes of the
Irreparable. Never again would a man hold her in his arms, saying,
"Darling, I am very fond of you!" Take love out of her life, and what
barrenness, what weariness! After all, she was only seven-and-twenty,
and the thought came upon her that she might have waited until she was a
little older. The word "never" rang in her ears, and she realised as she
had not done before all that a lover meant to her--romance, adventure,
the brilliancy and sparkle of life. What was life without the delightful
excitement of the chase, the delicious doubts regarding the hidden
significance of every look and word, then the rapture of the final
abandonment? She tried to think that the life she proposed to relinquish
had not brought her happiness, but she could not put back memory of the
enchanting days she had spent with her lovers. Oh, the intense hours of
anticipation! and the wonderful recollections! rich and red as the
heart of a flower! Such rapture seemed to her to be worth the remorse
that came after, and the peace of mind that a chaste life would secure,
a poor recompense for dreary days and months. She realised the length
and the colour of the time--grey week after grey week, blank month after
blank month, void year after void year! And she always getting a little
older, getting older in a drab, lifeless time, in a lifeless life, a
weary life filled with intolerable craving! She had endured it once, a
feeling as if she wanted to go mad.... She picked up her letters.
Among the letters she received that morning was one from Ulick. He was
still in Paris, and would not be back for another week or ten days. He
had been lonely, he had missed her, and looked forward to their meeting.
He told her about the opera, the people he had met, and what they had
said about his music. But the tender affection of his letter was not to
her mind. Why did he not say that he longed to take her in his arms and
kiss her on the lips? Knitting her brows, she tried to think that if he
had written more passionately she would have taken the train and gone to
him. She had sent Owen away on account of scruples of conscience, and a
life of chastity extended indefinitely before her. But who was this
woman to whom Ulick had shown his music, and who had said that if
anything happened to prevent Evelyn Innes from singing the part, she
hoped that Ulick would give it to her? Why should she have thought that
something would happen to prevent Evelyn Innes from creating Grania? Had
Ulick suggested it to her? But how could Ulick know? She tried to think
if she had ever told him she was tired of the stage. Perhaps he had
consulted the stars and had divined her future. This woman seemed to
know that something might happen, and something was happening, there
could be no doubt about that.
There was no doubt that she was tired of the stage, but perhaps that was
on account of hard work, perhaps she required a rest; in two or three
months she might return eagerly to the study of Grania; for the sake of
Ulick, she might remain on the stage till she had established the
success of his opera. This might be if she and Ulick were not lovers.
She had promised Owen that she would not keep him for her lover, but
that did not mean that she would not sing his opera. If she didn't,
another woman would, some wretched singer who did not understand the
music, and it would be a failure. Ulick would hate her; he would believe
that her refusal to sing his opera was a vile plan to do him an injury.
He did not know what conscience meant--he only understood the legends
and the Gods! She laughed, and a moment afterwards was submerged in
difficulties. Her conduct would seem more incomprehensible to him than
it did to Owen; she did not wish him to hate her, but he would hate her,
and to avoid seeing her he would not go to Dowlands, and so she would
rob her father of his friend--the friend who had kept him company when
she deserted him. There was another alternative. If she liked him well
enough to be his mistress, she should like him well enough to be his
wife. But knowing that she would not marry him, she took up her other
letters and began reading them.
Lady Duckle liked Homburg; everyone was there, and she hoped Evelyn
would not be detained in London much longer. The Duke of Berwick had
proposed to Miss Beale, and Lady Mersey was always about with young Mr.
So-and-So. Evelyn didn't read it all. She lay back thinking, for this
letter, about things that interested her no longer, had led her thoughts
back to self, and she inquired why in the midst of all her enjoyments
she had felt that her real life was elsewhere, why she had always known
that sooner or later the hour would come when she would leave the things
which she enjoyed so intensely. The idea of departure had never quite
died down in her, and she had always known that she would be one day
quite a different woman. She had often had glimpses of her future self
and of her future life, but the moment she tried to distinguish what was
there, the vision faded. Even now she knew that she would not marry
Ulick, and this not because she would refuse her father anything, but
merely because it was not to be. Her eyes went to the piano, but on the
way there she stopped to ask herself a question. Why was she in London
at this time of year? She knew why she did not care to go to
Homburg--because she was tired of society. But why did she not go to
some quiet seaside place where she could enjoy the summer weather? She
would like to sit on the beach and hear the sea. Her soul threatened to
give back a direct answer, and she dismissed the question.
She paced the empty alley facing the Bayswater Road. No one was there
except a nursemaid and a small child, and she and they shared the
solitude. She could see the omnibuses passing, and hear the clank of the
heavy harness, and seated on one of the seats she drew diagrams on the
gravel with her parasol. Owen said there was no meaning in life, that it
was no more than an unfortunate accident between two eternal sleeps. But
she had never been able to believe that this was so; and if she had
sought to disbelieve in God, it was as Monsignor had said, because she
wished to lead a sinful life. And if she could not believe in
annihilation, there could be no annihilation for her, that was Ulick's
theory. The name of her lover brought up the faded Bloomsbury Square,
the litter of manuscript and the books on magic! She had tried to
believe in readings of the stars. But such vague beliefs had not helped
her. In spite of all her efforts, the world was slipping behind her;
Owen and Ulick and her stage career seemed very little compared with the
certainty within her that she was leading a sinful life, and she was
only really certain of that. The omnibuses in the road outside, the
railways beyond the town, the ships upon the sea, what were these things
to her--or yet the singing of operas? The only thing that really
mattered was her conscience.
Then, almost without thinking at all, in a sort of stupor, she walked
over the hill and descended the slope, and leaning over the balustrade
she looked at the fountains. But the splashing water explained nothing,
and she turned to resume her walk; and she reflected that to send away
her lovers would avail her nothing, unless she subsequently confessed
her sins and obtained the priest's absolution. Monsignor would tell her
that to send away her lovers was not sufficient, and he would refuse his
absolution unless she promised him not to see them any more. That
promise she could not give, for she had promised Ulick that she would
sing Grania, and she had promised Owen to see him in three months. It
seemed to her both weak and shameful to break either of these promises.
The spire of Kensington Church showed sharp as a needle on a calm sky,
and it was in a sudden anguish of mind that she determined that her
repentance must be postponed. She had considered the question from every
point of view, and could not at once reverse her life; the change must
come gradually. She had sent Owen away; that was enough for the present.
The numerous pea-fowls had gathered in a bare roosting tree on an
opposite hillside, and the immense tails of the cock-birds swept the
evening sky. Owen would have certainly compared it to a picture by
Honderhoker. The ducks clambered out of the water, keeping their cunning
black eyes fixed on the loitering children whom the nursemaid was urging
to return home. In Kensington Gardens, the glades were green and gold,
and for some little while Evelyn watched the delicate spectacle of the
fading light, and insensibly she began to feel that a life of spiritual
endeavour was the only life possible to her, and that, however much it
might cost her, she must make the effort to attain it. Even to feel that
she was capable of desiring this ideal life was a delicious happiness,
and her thoughts flowed on for a long while, unmindful of practical
difficulties. Suddenly it came upon her like a sudden illumination, that
sooner or later she would have to make all the sacrifices that this
ideal demanded, that she would not have any peace of mind until she had
made them. But even at the same moment the insuperable difficulties of
the task before her appeared, and she despaired. The last obstacle was
money. As she crossed the road dividing Kensington Gardens from Hyde
Park, she understood that the simple fact of owing a few thousand pounds
rendered her immediate retirement from the stage impossible. She had
insisted that the money she required to live in Paris and study with
Madame Savelli should be considered as a debt, which she would repay out
of her first earnings. But Owen had laughed at her. He had refused to
accept it, and he would never tell her the rent of the house in the Rue
Balzac; he had urged that as he had made use of the house he could not
allow her to pay for it. In the rough, she supposed that a thousand
pounds would settle her debt for the year they had spent in Paris.
Since then she had, however, insisted on keeping herself, but now that
she came to think it out, it did not seem that she had done much more
than pay her dressmaker's bills. She grew alarmed at the amount of her
debt, which seemed in her excited imagination so large that all her
savings, amounting to about six or seven thousand pounds, would not
suffice to pay it off. Most of her jewellery had been given to her by
Owen; there was the furniture, the pictures and the china in Park Lane!
She would have to return all these, and the horses, too, if she wished
to pay everything, and the net result would be that she would mortally
offend the man who had done everything for her. She knew he would not
forgive her if she sent back the presents he had made her, nor could she
blame him, and she decided that such complete restitution was
impossible. But, for all she knew, Monsignor might insist upon it. If he
did? She felt that she would go mad if she did not put aside these
scruples, which she knew to be in a measure fictitious, but which she
was nevertheless unable to shake off. And she could not help thinking,
though she knew that such thoughts were both foolish and unjust, that
Owen had purposely contrived this thraldom. Then there was only one
thing for her to do, to go to Paris after Ulick.... A moment after there
came a sinking feeling. She knew that she could not. But what was she to
do? All this uncertainty was loosening her brain.... She might go to
Monsignor and lay the whole matter before him and take his advice. But
she knew if she went to him she must confess. Better that, she thought,
than that the intolerable present should endure.
Mental depression and sleepless nights had produced nervous pains in her
neck and arms. She could hardly drag herself along for very weariness.
The very substance of her being seemed to waste away; that amount of
unconsciousness without which life is an agony had been abstracted,
leaving nothing but a fierce mentality.
She slept a little after dinner, and awakening about eleven, she foresaw
another night of insomnia. The chatter of her conscience continued,
tireless as a cricket, and she had lost hope of being able to silence
it. The hysterical tears of last night had brought her four hours of
sleep, but there was no chance of any repetition of them. It would be
useless to go upstairs. She sang through the greater part of
"Lohengrin," and then took up the "Meistersinger," and read it till it
fell from her hands. ... It was three o'clock; and feeling very tired,
she thought that she might be able to sleep. But all night long she saw
her life from end to end. Her miserable passage through this life, the
weakness of her character and the vileness of her sins were shown to her
in a hideous magnification. She was exhibited to herself like an insect
in a crystal, and she perceived the remotest antennae of her being.
One night it occurred to her that she might ring for Merat and send her
to the chemist's for a sleeping draught. But it was four o'clock in the
morning, and she did not like to impose such a task on her maid.
Moreover, she might get to sleep a little later on, so she wrote on a
piece of paper that Merat was not to come to her room until she rang for
her, and she lay down and folded her arms, and once more began to count
the sheep through the gate. But that night sleep seemed further than
ever from her eyes, and at eight she was obliged to ring. "Merat, I have
not closed my eyes all night."
"Mademoiselle ought to have a sleeping draught."
"Yes, I'll take one to-night Get me some tea. Another night like this
will drive me mad."
Late in the afternoon she slept for an hour in an armchair, and, a
little rested, went to walk in the park. She was not feeling so dazed;
her brain was not so light, and the sense of whiteness was gone; the
pains in the neck and arms too had died down; they were now like a dim
suggestion, a memory. But the greatest relief of all was that she was
not thinking, conscience was quiescent and in the calm of the evening
and the gentleness of the light, life seemed easier to bear. If she
could only get a night's sleep! Now she did not know which was the
worst--the reality, the memory, or the anticipation of a sleepless
night. She had wandered round the park by the Marble Arch, and had
continued her walk through Kensington Gardens, and sitting on the
hillside by the Long Water, with the bridge on her left hand and the
fountains under her eyes, she looked towards Kensington. There an
iridescent sky floated like a bubble among the autumn-tinted trees. She
was then thinking of her music and her friends; she hardly knew of what
she was thinking, when a thought so clear that it sounded like a bell
spoke within her, and it said that the things of which she was thinking
were as nothing, and that Life was but a little moment compared with
Eternity, and she seemed to see into the final time which lay beyond the
grave. "There and not here are the true realities," said the voice, and
she got up and walked hurriedly down the hillside, fearing lest the
fierce conflict of conscience should begin again in her. She walked as
fast as she was able, hoping to extinguish in action the conscience
that she dreaded, but she was weak and almost helpless, and had to pause
to rest. She stood, one hand on the balustrade, not daring to turn her
head lest she should see the spire of the Kensington Church.
She walked across the gardens, through the great groves, and sat down.
The grass was worn away about the roots of the trees and through the
gnarled trunks she could see the keeper's cottage covered with reddened
creeper. Perhaps it was the calm and seclusion that called her thoughts
to the convent garden, and she reflected that if she had not accepted
the nuns' invitation to tea, her life might have continued without
deviation. She was impressed with the slightness of the thread on which
our destiny hangs, and then by the inevitableness of our lives. We
perceive the governing rule only when we look back. The present always
seems chaos, but when we look back, we distinguish the reason of every
action, and we recognise the perfect fulfilment of what must be. Her
visit to the convent--how little it was when looked at from one side,